THE PARABLE OF THE VINEYARD
Reading: Mark ch. 12
In our New Testament reading Mark 12 we have read once again that parable of the Wicked Husbandman (or, as itis sometimes called, the parable of the Vineyard ). It is a story which has its exhortations for us to-day. To understand it, we need to recall the background. In Mark 11:27 28 we read, And they come again to Jerusalem: and as he was walking in the temple, there come to him the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and say unto him, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority to do these things?
So it was the contention of the chief priests, the scribes and the elders that moved Jesus to tell the parable with which our chapter opens: (12:1 2)
And Jesus began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard, and set an hedge about it, and digged a place for the winefat, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country. And at the season he sent unto the husbandmen a servant, that he might receive from the husbandmen of the fruit of the vineyard.
The majority of those Jews who listened as Jesus told this story would recall similar words in the Psalms and the Prophets, for this was by no means the first time that the vine or the vineyard had been used as a figure to represent their nation. In Psalm 80:8 11 we have one such reference. David speaks of God s great work of transferring Israel from Egypt to the promised land and placing them there:
Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land.
The Great Creator of Heaven and Earth was the originator of this Vineyard, its owner and possessor. He had not revealed Himself to the other nations of this earth; He had reserved that special privilege for this small people He had used His unlimited power to release them from their bondage in Egypt and to transplant them to the finest stretch of country upon the world s surface. And, in addition, He had given them all the wise counsel which they needed to assure their prosperity as a nation: all the wisdom of the eternal ages had been brought to bear to devise for them a perfect way of life. As Moses had said: Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. KEEP, therefore, AND DO THEM, for this is your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the nations.
Having done all this for them, God looked for a return to Himself in recognition and praise, and by the rendering of obedience to His wise and simple laws for only thereby would they live acceptably in His sight.
In the happy and prosperous conditions in the land of Palestine, the majority of Israel soon forgot everything but their own plans and their own pleasure and comfort. The story of the Rook of Judges reveals the infinite patience of God in continually devising circumstances and difficulties which would drive them back to a true realisation of their duty to Him but that was their besetting sin:
their constant forgetfulness of the Author of their happiness, the unseen but all-powerful owner of that good land in which they dwelt. You will recall God s words to Samuel when they demanded a king:
They have not rejected thee, but they have REJECTED ME ,THAT I SHOULD NOT REIGN OVER THEM.
And so God gave them kings: Saul, David, Solomon, and then as we read in our first reading for to-day (1 KINGS 12) Rehoboam the son of Solomon came to the throne of Israel.
Solomon himself had said, as recorded in the Book of Ecclesiastes, Yea, I hated all my labour which I had taken under the sun; because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knoweth whether he shall be a wise man ora foi? . And here was that man, the son of Naatnah, an Ammonitess, one of the alien wives whom Solomon had maftied contrary to God s commandment.
Rehoboam proved himself a man devoid of wisdom. What need was there to threaten the people with even more severe burdens than his father, Solomon, had laid upon them? He had inherited one of the richest kingdoms of the earth. Had his mind been as that of his grandfather David, intent upon rendering back to God the glory and the honour that is His due, God would have blessed him with continual prosperity; but, in his fateful ignorance, he had only been king a few days when he alienated 10 out of the 12 tribes, and thus brought about the fulfilment of the Divine judgment of which his father, Solomon, had been warned.
In passing, cannot we learn a lesson from this? Human nature is never satisfied. God provides sufficient for our needs. If we demand more, we seldom gain anything in actual fact. If we are foolish enough to divert our attention from God s service to seek the world s riches, we may be allowed to gain a little extra for a brief while, but in the end we lose far more than we gain. The highest wisdom is to follow the example of the true servants of God in every age, who learned to be content with such things as God gave, rejoicing rather in the possession of the true riches the prospect of inheriting all things at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But returning to our subject. Rehoboam, careless of God s glory and seeking only his own, forsook the quiet voice of wisdom and adopted the more high-sounding counsel of the young men who were brought up with him; and lost even the transient glory that would have remained with him. Realising his mistake too late, he sought to rectify the position by force, but in 1 Kings 12: 22 24 we learn that there was one who was watching these undignified proceedings unseen the Owner of the Vineyard, who looked for righteousness, but behold, a cry :
But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying, Speak unto Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, king of Judah, and unto all the house of Judah and Benjamin,and to the remnant of the people, saying, Thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren, the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me. They hearkened therefore to the Word of the Lord, and returned to depart, according to the word of the Lord.
So the 10 tribes departed foolishly following Jeroboam, who gave to the two golden calves the praise and honour that belonged to the God of Israel. And in the kingdom of Judah, few of the kings who followed had the mind of David, to act as shepherd over God s people, to turn the hearts of the people back to God that he might bless them in the land that they had inherited.
In the time of King Ahaz, Isaiah was instructed to tell them that parable of the Vineyard revealing God s disappointment with Judah for their abject failure to recognise Him, the source of all the good that they enjoyed day by day: Isaiah 5:1 4.
Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill:
and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes. . . And now, 0 inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down. And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
And so, as it was with our first parents, God decided to drive Israel out of this good land to give them harder conditions, that they might learn the bitterness that inevitably follows in the wake of disobedience to divine commandments. But even then God, in His mercy, delayed the final overthrow of Judah for more than 170 years whilst He pleaded with them through the prophets.
And then, turning over a few more pages to our middle reading for to-day, Jeremiah 38, we come to the time foretold by Ezekiel, when the throne was to be overturned, when iniquity was to be brought to an end; and even then, we notice, there was a final chance given to Zedekiah to surrender: (v. 17).
Then said Jeremiah unto Zedekiah, Thus saith the Lord, the God of hosts, the God of Israel; If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon s princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live and thine house: but if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylon s princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand.
But Zedekiah made the mistake of fearing men whom he could see rather than God whom he could not see, but who, in the event, turned out to be far more terrible both to him and to his people. And so Judah, in its turn, was carried away to captivity in Babylon.
What was the stern lesson? They had counted too much on the mercy and the forbearance of God, leading them to disregard His commandments, despise His servants and deny Him the service which is His due.
In the natural order, the man who plants a vineyard does so that it may afford him pleasure. The vineyard is not there to produce fruit for itself but for the owner, and so long as it remains fruitful, it is tended and cared for; BUT if it degenerates into unfruitfulness it has no further use and therefore it is rooted out and burnt. That was the lesson that Israel was to learn and these things have happened to them for examples to us.
God expects a return for his labour, as we read in Revelation: For thy pleasure they are and were created. But if men disregard God by forgetting His existence and His laws, by turning from His ways and making no mention of His name; showing no outward sign of their respect for Him, then they afford him no pleasure and he casts them away. And that, surely, is the great lesson of the Vineyard, Israel were not denied the full enjoyment of God s good gifts, but God required the first-fruits, as His due.
Moses had told them plainly: It shall come to pass ifye hearken to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord thy God
will love thee and bless thee and multiply thee . . . He will also bless the fruit of thy land, thy corn and thy wine and thine oil; the increase of thy kine and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which He sware unto thy fathers to give thee . . . what doth the Lord require of thee but to fear the Lord thy God, to walk in all His ways, and to love Him and to serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul?
How does it apply to us? This is our day of opportunity. Very soon, we believe, Christ will be here and the Kingdom of God will be reestablished. Trust in the Lord, and do good, so shalt thou dwell in the land; delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart,
This is the happy destiny to which the Truth calls us, but, of necessity, it must be God s way. And that is our difficulty, because the nature which we now possess does not incline to God s way. Just as it is hard to keep God ever in our minds, so is it equally hard to remember that the heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,
We could not find a better illustration than that in our New Testament chapter, Mark 12, where Christ shows by that parable of the wicked husbandmen that the leaders of Israel, who imagined themselves righteous, were, in fact, working in direct opposition to the God of Heaven!
In the parable in Isaiah it was the vineyard itself (the people of Israel) that brought forth the wild grapes, but in Christ s parable it was the husbandmen who refused to render to the owner of the vineyard his share of the fruits. In other words, Christ s remarks were directed against the spiritual leaders of the nation, and they themselves were astute enough to recognise it straight away: v. 12 And they sought to lay hold on him, but feared the people: for they knew that he had spoken the parable against them: and they left him, and went their way.
Let us look, then, at the parable as recorded in this chapter: Mark 12:1 9.
Bro. Robert Roberts said: Having planted the vineyard, the proprietor sent messengers to receive of the fruit. That is, God raised up prophets in the midst of Israel, to bring them to the obedience which He required, and to that service and praise in which He delighted. With what result, everyone acquainted with Israel s history knows, There is no sadder chapter in the whole story of human confusion upon earth than this that a nation, divinely founded, constituted and guided, should, in all their generations, have turned against and killed the messengers divinely sent to them to keep them in the right way.
God, had He been less patient, could have destroyed the husbandmen after the first refusal to render to him his due. But, as we have seen, God was infinitely patient over centuries of time. Why did they continually refuse to give God His due? Because, through ignorance of Him and His character, they failed to recognise His servants. Christ himself said: If any man will do His will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
If we did not know the story so well, we might find it incredible that the leaders of Israel should have so set themselves against Christ. And yet, stripped of outward appearances, it was a battle between the mind of the flesh and the mind of the Spirit: between men whose principal concern was to turn the glory to themselves and one whose sole concern was to give the glory to God,
In Mark 10:32 34 Christ showed that he knew how the matter would end: And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again.
What a lesson it is for us! Human nature has not changed, and if we let the mind of the flesh get the upper hand, here is an illustration of the lengths to which it will go.
It all comes back to that important point of taking the right outlook upon these things: if we truly know God, and believe that His way is best, then we shall not want to divert any of the honour to ourselves but, like our Master, will willingly give ourselves wholeheartedly to the working out of God s plan. In Mark 12:28 34 Christ showed the practical application of the commandments:
And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, 0 Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said unto him, Well, Master, thou hast said the truth: for there is one God; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbour as himself, is rrore than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices. And when Jesus saw that he answered discreetly, he said unto him, Thou art not far from the Kingdom of God.
That was the example that Christ himself set. He did not let himself be disturbed from his good works by the opposition of these leaders of Israel. He showed perfect faith in the overruling hand of his Father, that all things would work together for good, and he cooperated in that plan to the end. His words in Mark 12:6 8 showed remarkable fore-knowledge, but even more remarkable courage:
Having yet therefore one son, his well beloved, he sent him also unto them, saying, They will reverence my son. But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be our s. And they took him, and killed him, and cast him out of the vineyard.
If we truly follow Jesus, the parable will hold good for us, as we read in John 15: I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. . every branch in me that beareth ft-nit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.
Thus this great sacrifice, which we now remember, was brought about, but we have not yet seen the end of the story: Mark 12:9, What shall therefore the Lord of the vineyard do? he will come and destroy the husbandmen, and will give the vineyard unto others. Jesus said to them on another occasion: Ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
We sincerely believe we are now very near to that time when Christ will return, and that we, of this generation, will see the completion of the story told so long ago in this parable; and if we remain faithful, we shall, in God s mercy, find a place amongst those others to whom the vineyard will then be given.
In conclusion, recall that prayer of David: Return, we beseech thee, 0 God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; and the vineyard which thy right hand bath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself. - . Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man who thou madest strong for thyself. So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name. Turn us again, 0 Lord God of Hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved. : P. C. Ridout